Friday, November 30, 2007

If I'm so smart...

Toronto, around the 1970s
Don Hunstein/Sony BMG Masterworks
(Image from NYT)

As I grow older and wiser but not richer, I find myself mulling over that old retort "If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?" And I ask myself,

Sorry, I had to get my attention. That sometimes happens when I'm talking to myself. I realize that my unexpected shout must be disconcerting to others on the subway.

Anyway, as I was saying, I ask myself,
"Jeff, if you're so smart, why aren't you rich?"
This has really had me puzzled, but I think that I've now figured out the reason. I'm not so smart. If I were only smarter, I'd have realized this long ago.

I used to think that I was quite smart because I was eccentric . . . like Glenn Gould being eccentric. He was eccentric, and smart. I'm eccentric. Therefore, I must be smart. Pretty stupid of me, to draw that hasty conclusion, but what do you expect? I'm not so smart.

But it's true that really smart people are eccentric, right? They've got smarts, which is another way of saying that their brains hurt, I guess. As in "Ow, my brain smarts."

Glenn Gould's brain smarted. And he made a lot of money in addition to making a lot of music. Oddly -- though appropriate for an odd person and thus not oddly at all -- he didn't make a lot of money from his music but from his investments:
Gould, a sufferer from extreme stage fright but a winner in the stock market, had quit performing in public 18 years earlier [than his untimely death in 1982], using the proceeds of his financial ventures to soften the burdens of early retirement.
Or so says Bernard Holland, who has written a fascinating, smart if short article on Gould for the New York Times: "The Continuing Cult of Glenn Gould, Deserved or Not" (November 24, 2007).

In short, Gould got rich not from his skilled hands for music but from his smart head for stocks. If he had only survived his death, he might have gotten rich from his music, too. Bernard Holland implies that he did survive:
In death, Gould came to life.
A neat trick. Holland explains:
Record companies that had not been paying much attention introduced great piles of discs into the marketplace, from big-ticket items of Bach and Beethoven down to the sweepings that Gould had left behind in the studio.

Brisk business was done over his body, and it hasn't stopped yet. A cleaned-up version of his career-making 1955 recording of Bach's "Goldberg" Variations appeared this year and is now prominently on sale.
Gould's untimely death was thus a timely, savvy career move. Maybe I should try that?

Holland is also very smart, and writes lots of music reviews for the Times, so maybe he's also rich. I don't think that he's dead. I wonder if he's eccentric. He seems to appreciate Gould's eccentricities:
Tales of his personal oddities were a thriving spinoff industry. There was Gould bundled up for blizzard conditions in tropical summer heat -- indeed, he was apparently once arrested in Florida as a park bench vagrant.
That sounds preferable to dying, so perhaps I should try that instead, not in Florida but here in Seoul next summer . . . except that mere eccentricity is not enough. I'd first have to be as smart as Gould. Why, I'd settle just to be as smart as Holland, who writes of things beyond my ken:
With Angela Hewitt's recent presentation of Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" at Zankel Hall still in the ears, I have been going back to the Gould recordings of these preludes and fugues on Sony Classical. At a number of moments, Bach is brilliantly served. Gould's intelligent use of astonishing muscular control in the C sharp and E flat fugues of Book 1 gives separate personalities to two and three voices in simultaneous conversation, this on a modern piano constructed to make individual notes sound uniform rather than distinctive.
I could never have written that except by copying it, word for word, like Pierre Menard rewriting Don Quixote and claiming it as his own in the fantasy elaborated by Borges, another very smart guy.

I wonder if Borges is rich. He was eccentric. And he is dead...

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Axis of Medieval"

Axes of Medieval?
For beating around the Bush...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Another of my cyber-cypher friends -- "Eshuneutics" this time -- has alerted me to a . . . well, 'intriguing' review of the new Beowulf film:
This is a weird little article about Beowulf (film) as an American v Korea allegory.
By "Korea" here is meant North Korea. The article, "'Beowulf': War Porn Wrapped in a Chippendale Dancer's Body," was written by an expat author currently living in Moscow, Alexander Zaitchik, and published on November 27 (2007) in an online magazine with the punworthy title AlterNet.

Eshuneutics was referring to the following passage:
Beowulf, played by Ray Winstone, arrives in Denmark not as a king, but as a famed mercenary. Like today's Pentagon-contracted security firms, he claims not to be interested solely in money, yet heartily indulges in the king's munificence. The mercenary-hero proceeds to do battle with three monsters -- a sort of Axis of Medieval.

The three beasts in the film in fact line up pretty well as stand-ins for Iraq, North Korea and Iran. Beowulf slays the first beast (Grendel/Iraq) easy enough, but he loses his soul in the process and becomes prisoner to the battle's legacy. Because of the second beast's potent demon powers, Beowulf decides not to slay it at all (Grendel's mother/North Korea). The third monster is the biggest (Iran/the Dragon), and when Beowulf finally gets around to charging its cave, the battle ends in their mutual death and the destruction of the citadel.
Nice line there, that "axis of Medieval" remark. I suspect that the entire review was constructed by Zaitchik just so he could make a great Bushwhacking pun. And those two paragraphs above are a fairly apt summary of the film . . . if one deletes the extraneous references to the Pentagon, security firms, mercenaries, Iraq, North Korea, and Iran.

Zaitchik is only half serious, and he admits that the film is not really a neoconservative allegory:
Beowulf's heroic but tragic end . . . makes it hard to fit the story into a neat neocon narrative.
Because, of course, there isn't one. Zaitchik is simply being satirical and ridiculing the film.

But the review isn't entirely satirical, and I think that Zaitchik is right about the 'homoeroticism' implicit in the film's admiration for the muscular, naked male body. In the poem, Beowulf removes his armor to take on Grendel without weapon or protection, but I don't recall him stripping down naked to wrestle the monster, so what's the motive for the movie having Beowulf remove all of his clothes except to make his muscular body an object for the fascinated gaze?

Not all gays were fascinated. One gay man reading the review wrote:
I am 100% gay living in a gay household. I thought the movie was a piss-poor adaptation of the original "Beowold." But neither I nor my friends noticed all the homoerotocism described by the author. (Razst on Nov 27, 2007 10:19 AM)
Razst needs to use spellcheck, but if he didn't see "homoerotocism," who am I to argue? Still...

But as for the anti-Christian interpretation that Zaitchik finds -- and I think seriously intends -- I disagree. Zaitchik asserts that "another of the film's notable themes . . . [is its] strident, Nietzschean anti-Christianity," for which he gives the following evidence:
This theme is unveiled in the film's early minutes, with John Malkovich's character, the venal drunk Unferth, explaining the new Roman religion to a small group in hushed tones, as if he were explaining some new street drug. "This is how it works," he says. "After you die, you wouldn't really be dead -- providing you accepted him as the one and only god."

Later, after Grendel attacks the castle, Unferth asks King Hrothgar, "Should we pray to the Roman god Christ Jesus? Perhaps he can lift our affliction." To which Hrothgar responds: "No, no, no. The gods will do nothing for us we cannot do for ourselves. What we need is a hero."

Enter the mercenary Beowulf. But even heroes are no match for the new god Jesus Christ. After the religion has gained a foothold in the land, an aging Beowulf mutters, "The age of heroes is over. The Christ god has killed it, leaving humanity with nothing but weeping martyrs, fear and shame."
If this were the film's only word on Christianity, then I'd agree in seeing the film as anti-Christian, but Unferth is an intriguing figure, for despite his unsavory character, he may, in fact, be a truth-teller, for when he questions Beowulf's tale about battling sea monsters, we know that he is at least partly correct to doubt Beowulf's story. Despite his own disreputable character, then, Unferth might be saying something 'true' about Christianity. As for Beowulf's remark about Christ having killed the age of heros, that's perhaps true enough, historically, as a metaphor expressing the passing of the old, heroic pagan culture with the coming of Christianity, but Beowulf's words are not always entirely trustworthy, as we have already noticed, and his sort of hero is concerned mostly with self-promotion anyway, even to the point of allowing some of his thanes to die first at Grendel's hands before entering the fray to act the hero and also of lying outrageously about supposedly heroic deeds that nobody else witnessed.

And I still maintain that Wealtheow, depicted in the final scenes wearing a small but shining golden cross about her neck, is the only fully admirable character in the film, suggesting to me that the director Zemeckis did not intend an anti-Christian message.

But I've already argued about this.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Omer Ibn Hajaj Pays a Little Visit

From some internet lounge, he gazes out...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Back on July 18, 2006, I posted an entry on Abu Bakr Naji's 'textbook' for jihad, the title of which has been rendered in English as The Management of Savagery.

Naji's text has been called "Al Qaeda's Playbook" -- a sports metaphor, I take it, making an analogy especially to the football strategies sketched out in the 'playbooks' that coaches put together.

Terrorism as sport? Perhaps a 'sport of nature'? A debased nature, I mean.

But back to the topic. My blog entry on Naji was merely a summary of his text, or part of it (for I couldn't find time to finish reading the entire, very long tome), along with some speculations of mine on what to expect if the playbook's strategies are put into operation. Here were my concluding speculations:
I've been assuming that this jihadist process will be undertaken in areas of what used to be called the Third World, but how might local application work in Europe itself, where demographic trends project large Muslim populations by mid-century? Expect Islamists to press for autonomy in Muslim dominated areas, to demand the right to apply Sharia in their own communities, to put pressure on non-Muslims to move out of Muslim areas, and to use intimidation to destabilize neighboring areas. Expect Islamists also to use radical versions of multiculturalism and local elections for political office as legitimate channels in pushing their agenda.
I think that we see some of this happening in Europe already, and the current riots in the Val-d'Oise department of France might have some connection, but that link remains unclear to me for now. Sometimes rioting 'youth' are just rioting youth.

Perhaps it's all beyond me anyway, or so says an Islamist from an "Internet Lounge" in London on his "first assignment" (according to information provided with the IP Address, which I've saved), who posted this comment:
however some tries, it will always be almost impossible to get a handle on the islamist and where are they really comming from.

Little knowldge of the cultural/historical and social context of the middle eastern political and religious discourse would always be the greatest block for any western mind when struggling with the modern islamic global resistence movement.

my sincere adivce give up lads and try your hands on something else more simple.
This Islamist signed himself as Omer Ibn Hajaj, which doubtless has some meaning that escapes me -- precisely as Ibn Hajaj expected, I presume, since he has me pegged as lacking "the cultural/historical and social context" necessary for understanding what he calls "the modern islamic global resistence movement."

Yeah, what do I know?

I do know that a certain Abu Omar Ben Hajaj of Morocco or Spain wrote in 1073 on agriculture and the proper fertilization of soil for planting sugar cane, as Felix A. Mathews tells us in "Northwest Africa and Timbuctoo" (Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York (1881), page 208). And a certain Amr Ibn Hajaj is mentioned -- in Imam Mohammad Jawad Chirri's Imam Hussein leader of the martyrs (page 13) -- as leading a battle against Imam Hussein, but that would refer to an Ibn Hajaj fighting against a so-called 'rightly guided caliph', which seems an unlikely nom de guerre for our Omer Ibn Hajaj to take upon himself.

So Omer Ibn Hajaj is right, it seems, about my ignorance. In my brief reply, I wrote:

Thanks for the suggestion, Omer Ibn Hajaj. Perhaps I'll try my hand at something simpler, like subatomic physics.
Except that physics is also beyond my ken ... but I sometimes report on that as well (though not for a good long while now).

So, I'll keep on 'striving' in my own spiritual 'struggle' to understand Islamism and its jihad.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Memo to Moon Chung-in

Prominent Neocon?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Professor Moon Chung-in, a genuinely charming fellow whom I met a couple of years ago at an international conference on political science held here in Seoul, has recently published an article in the Joong Ang Daily's "Opinion" section:
"The Syrian nuke connection" (Joong Ang Daily, November 26, 2007, page 10)
Moon argues that the ongoing six-party talks over Northeast Asian security concerns and the US-North Korean diplomacy aimed at normalizing relations between the two nations are being undermined by American concern about alleged North Korean nuclear technology being supplied to the Syrians.

Moon acknowledges that if this turns out to be true, it would threaten the nonproliferation of WMDs, but he turns his more serious attention to something else:
The reason U.S. political circles are so focused on these alleged links between Syria and North Korea is, if true, they pose a major threat to both the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to Israel's security. American neocons and the Israeli lobby have significant influence over U.S. diplomatic policies, and they tend to categorize American and Israeli security under the same heading.
Apparently, Moon sees a putative Israeli influence on American foreign policy as the rock upon which might founder the trial run of a milder American policy toward North Korea before that ship has even left the harbor.

Whatever position that one might take on the relative weight of Israeli influence versus fear of WMD proliferation as the reason for American concern, I feel that I ought to correct one misstatement by Moon:
According to Russell Kirk, a neocon theorist, Israel serves as a crucial link between the neocons.
Moon may be thinking of Kirk's remark in his 1988 Heritage Foundation lecture that:
... not seldom it has seemed as if some eminent Neoconservatives mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States -- a position they will have difficulty in maintaining, as matters drift in the Levant. ("The Neoconservatives: An Endangered Species," Heritage Lecture #178, December 15, 1988)
Tel Aviv, of course, is the capital of Israel, and Kirk was suggesting -- as does Moon himself -- that Israel has too much influence on American foreign policy.

Russell Kirk was certainly no "neocon," despite jokingly referring to himself as having been a 'neoconservative' back in the early 1950s, for by his jocular acceptance of that term first applied to him by his critics way back in the 1950s, he meant a revival of old conservatism. Kirk was as paleoconservative as one can get, an old-style Burkean conservative in the Catholic mold who believed in the older traditions of Western Civilization and distrusted American intervention in foreign affairs.

Either Professor Moon has mistyped "paleo" as "neo," or he has mistyped Russell Kirk altogether by misreading a jocular remark.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..."

Cross Symbolism?
Or just annoyingly ambiguous...
(Image from Out Now)

In his excellent review of the Beowulf movie, my cypher-cyber-buddy Scott Nokes -- whom I've also met offline at a Medievalist conference here in Seoul -- wondered about the religious angle to the film:
The Christian/pagan thing never quite got worked out well. I was under the impression that the film was trying to be anti-Christian, but it never really came to thematic fruition.
Anti-Christian? I didn't get that impression, and I would be surprised if the director, Robert Zemeckis, were intending an anti-Christian film. I've read in an interview somewhere that he was raised as a Catholic by his Lithuanian father and Croatian mother. In itself, that wouldn't mean anything since one could rebel and become anti-Catholic. But in an interview with American Academy of Achievement, he's asked a question about his values:
AAA: There's a sense of quality and a value system that has infused your later work to a greater and greater degree. Where did that come from?

Robert Zemeckis: I think that was bred into me, growing up. It was really a very healthy, balanced system when I look back at it. I was sent to a Catholic school when I was in grade school, and I think in those days, the 50s, that was a bit more heavy. I carry a lot of emotional scars from that, but that's all changed now. The idea of having solid values, coupled with the reality of how the world and the system works, I think is ultimately pretty healthy, because you're not walking around completely naive.
Moreover, in addition to his movie Beowulf, Zemeckis also directed The Polar Express, which seemed to me to be a movie about faith, in which the spirit of Christmas can be experienced by those who truly believe. The official US website for The Polar Express movie says "This Holiday Season ... Believe." And there's that iconic image of the poor boy from the wrong side of town who, finally experiencing Christmas when he finds the gift that he first saw at the North Pole now waiting under his family's Christmas tree, runs out onto the porch and holds up his still-wrapped present whose bright-green ribbon forms a cross that stands out against the red-stripped wrapping, the dark night, and a world of snow.

I haven't located that image online, but in the image above, you can see the boy in the lower right looking down at his gift soon after he had first seen it in Santa's workshop. Note, as well, that the above image bears the words "If you truly believe" ... though any 'spiritual' mood is somewhat marred by the words that follow: "find all 5 stocking stuffers."

Anyway -- to get back to the Beowulf movie -- the old Germanic paganism didn't come off looking especially positive. The pagan Danes and Geats are drunken louts prone to ready sex and even readier violence. Beowulf himself, though a cut above his thanes, is not entirely reliable in word or deed despite being a hero.

The only fully admirable character in the entire story is Wealtheow, who falls for Beowulf and becomes his wife. In the latter part of the film, she has apparently converted to Christianity, for she wears a small but prominantly displayed golden cross about her neck and serves as Beowulf's conscience.

Not that this redeems the film, which remains flawed, but on the evidence, I can't say that the movie was intended as anti-Christian.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

"I am Beowulf!" Not.

"I am Beowulf!"
Sort of...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I saw Beowulf.

I know that the man was Beowulf because he reminded me repeatedly, in case I should possibly forget, that he was Beowulf.

He shouted, "I am Beowulf!"

He announced it to the audience. He announced it to sea monsters. He announced it to King Hrothgar, whose realm was under attack by the monster Grendel. He announced it one time too many when he repeated it to the mysteriously-acute-of-hearing Grendel just as he was ripping off Grendel's arm. Grendel left his arm with Beowulf but took the name back to his monstrous mother, who decided that Beowulf was precisely the man whom she'd been waiting for:
"Beowulf tore off my son's arm! Wow! What a man! Gotta have him!"
Women. Who can understand them?

Anyway, Grendel's mother gets her man and bears him a mandragon, a word that I've just coined and that means either a man who is a dragon or a dragon that is a man. Anyway, this mandragon grows up surrounded by his mother's primal hoard, and in the year that marks his coming of age -- about 50, I presume -- he wings forth to slay Beowulf his father.

The 3D special effects were absolutely spectacular.

Or so I'm told. The Korean cinema where I watched the film Beowulf didn't supply the special glasses that one would need for perceiving 3D. So I sat there in my seat observing, "Oh, that would look great in 3D."

But it didn't look so great in 2D. The digital motion capture technology works better in Beowulf than it did in The Polar Express, but it doesn't yet capture emotion. The faces didn't look quite real but more like Madame Tussauds' wax images of well-known actors. In a few years, we'll all laugh at this technology's primitive state.

But since we never know when our time is coming, I've decided to laugh now.

Yet, not everything about the film is ridiculable. Some critics have faulted the movie Beowulf for not staying true to the poem Beowulf. I differ from those critics. I think that the movie takes the poem seriously but deconstructs it by suggesting that the poem was a cover-up. Yes, admits the movie, Beowulf was a hero, but those old Germanic heroes were boastful men who were not above exaggerating their genuine exploits to make them sound even more impressive. Beowulf lied in claiming to have killed Grendel's mother by piercing her repeatedly with his 'sword', though there was a real piercing and perhaps a similitude of dying ... offscreen, for the film leaves that scene to our multidimensional imagination.

Beowulf's lies haunt him and return in monstrous form -- not a mantroll this time but a mandragon, for Hrothgar, who had similarly succumbed to the monstrously beautiful succubus that had borne him Grendel, was a lesser hero than Beowulf, whose offspring was something horribly greater.

Grendel. Grendel's mother. The dragon. Thus are the monsters -- unconnected in the poem -- intimately linked through the movie, a clever reinterpretation that will get a lot of attention in upcoming Medieval conferences.

More grist for the mill...

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Biblical Inerrancy?

"inerrant in the originals"
(Image from Wikipedia)

My philosophical friend Bill Vallicella has occasionally broached the issue of "scriptural inerrancy" -- such as in a blog post of over a year ago, when he informed his readers that he subscribes to the journal Philosophia Christi but does not belong to the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS), for even if he intended to violate his policy of "study everything, join nothing," he could never join this particular society, for to do so, he would have to sign the following statement:
I subscribe to the "Doctrinal Affirmation" of the EPS as follows -- "The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and therefore inerrant in the originals. God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory."
Bill could not sign the Affirmation because as he understands inerrancy, the Bible cannot reasonably be viewed as inerrant "in its entirety." Being a reasonable, philosophical sort of fellow, however, he notes that he might have misunderstood the meaning of "inerrancy," and he therefore passed the issue to his readers for comment, asking if someone could define the term and explain it putative reasonability.

The EPS statement on "inerrancy," by the way, reminds us of Ted Olsen's summary of what the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) requires of its members:
ETS membership has only two doctrinal requirements: you must affirm the Trinity and the inerrancy of Scripture.
The ETS website is perhaps a more authoritative place to look:
The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.
Clearly, the members of these two societies -- the EPS and the ETS -- belong to the same subset of Christians. Moreover, this requirement by these two societies implies that evangelicals affirm inerrancy. Perhaps most do, but not all ... though "evangelical" is a slippery term.

Anyway, my posts of the past few days have remined me that I don't know what the term "inerrancy" precisely means -- though I could check out what Wikipedia has to say on this issue and follow up its links to more scholarly sources. One could also peruse The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which asserts that the Bible "is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches" and "is without error or fault in all its teaching, ... in what it states about God's acts in creation, ... [and] about the events of world history," which is pretty far-reaching but which also does not state precisely what would consitute an "error."

Several of Bill Vallicella's commentors provide definitions of inerrancy, as I now see from the blog entry, and one of the commentors mentions J. P. Moreland's view indicating that "he does not believe in six twenty four hour periods of Creation," which I suppose means that Moreland would consider a literal reading of the Genesis creation account to be in error.

This has aroused my curiosity about Moreland's view of inerrancy, so I've now taken a look at the article mentioned yesterday: "The Rationality Of Belief In Inerrancy" (Trinity Journal 7.1 (Spring 1986): 75-86). I don't find an explicit statement of what inerrancy means for Moreland, but I did find his statement on why he thinks that "one is within his or her epistemic rights" (page 75) in holding to inerrancy:
[I]nsights from the philosophy of science show that one can be rational in affirming inerrancy in the presence of a number of anomalies even if this involves suspending judgment or using ad hoc hypotheses. This activity can be rational because: 1) hypotheses are not formed or tested by enumerative induction (where cases are evaluated in their own terms) but by hypothetico-deduction or abduction (where the particular cases are judged against the backdrop of the hypothesis); 2) the fact/interpretation distinction, though a genuine one, is not always easy to draw; the rationality of theory change, therefore, is not a simple matter of falsification, but rather a very complex affair that defies simplistic treatment; and 3) problem cases are not treated qua particulars but qua members of a class and, thus, the evidence of this whole class must be overthrown before the case can rationally be judged as a falsifying instance of that class. (page 85)
Without going to the trouble of explicating this passage in its entirety (which I'll leave for readers as homework), I'd simply like to note that this gives an inerrantist considerable leeway for maintaining belief in biblical inerrancy despite what 'errantists' might consider evidence against that belief.

Note to my students: don't try to defend the 'inerrancy' of your essays with Moreland's arguments, for you can be within your epistemic rights, yet still be wrong.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

J.P. Moreland: Evangelicals' Over-Commitment to the Bible

J.P. Moreland:
Recovering the Christian Mind

In my post of two days ago, on "J.P. Moreland: 'Fighting "Bibliolatry" at the Evangelical Theological Society'", I reported on Ted Olsen's summary of Moreland's paper criticizing Evangelicals for limiting themselves to the Bible for knowledge of spiritual things.

About Olsen's report, I concluded that it was:
Interesting, at least for me. Too bad that Moreland's paper isn't (yet?) online.
An anonymous reader from La Miranda, California, left the following message:
J.P. Moreland's paper is actually now online along with some of his comments at [Kingdom Triangle Discussion Forum].

I'm curious to hear more people's reactions to it and discuss.
That led me to the nine-page paper itself, "How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It" (pdf), which individuals interested can now read on their own but about which I'll say a few (inadequate) things.

Moreland begins by emphasizing his own belief in biblical inerrancy, which he does not define in this article but which he has defined elsewhere ("The Rationality of Belief in Inerrancy," Trinity Journal NS 7, Spring 1986, 75-86), then proceeds to his critique of a type of 'bibliolatry' that he calls "Evangelical Over-commitment to the Bible":
The sense that I have in mind is the idea that the Bible is the sole source of knowledge of God, morality, and a host of related important items. Accordingly, the Bible is taken to be the sole authority for faith and practice. (page 1)
Moreland's basic point is that the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura does not entail a rejection of extrabiblical sources of knowledge. By "sola" is not meant "only" in the sense that no other source is allowed but in the sense of "ultimate" in the sense that other sources cannot contradict scriptural authority though they can add to the Christian's knowledge of spiritual things about which the Bible does not speak comprehensively.

Moreland speculates that the Protestant reluctance to draw upon the "general revelation" available to "right reason" might stem either from "an aversion to anything that smacks of Catholicism ... [or from] a commitment to a certain view of human depravity" (page 2).

In short -- if I may interpret here -- Moreland is allowing that Evangelicals might be too averse to Catholic views on the prominent role for reason in understanding spiritual things or too radical in their hypercalvinist emphasis upon human depravity's impairment of reason (or, obviously, both). This has also been my impression in my time spent among Evangelicals, but Moreland goes on to argue that the Bible itself appeals to natural moral law and that the Reformed (i.e., Calvinist) tradition has also always appealed to natural moral law despite its commitment to a strong view of human depravity.

Moreland therefore turns to historical and sociological explanations for Evangelical 'bibliolatry' that have to do with the fragmentation of knowledge consonant with the emphasis upon research in universities rather than teaching, the shift at universities from teaching wisdom to training students in critical thinking, the rise of scientism as an unreflective philosophical commitment, and the general increase in secularism as a means of dealing in the world, among other things.

In response to these developments, Moreland thinks, Evangelicals have retreated from reason into a sort of fideism (unreasoning and even irrational belief) -- if I may again interpret and briefly state his point.

In concluding, Moreland calls for more Evangelicals to give more attention to "extra-biblical knowledge" and to develop "biblical, theological, and philosophical justifications for such knowledge along with guidance for its use" (page 8).

I realize that I haven't done Moreland's paper justice, but as I told the anonymous commentor, "the essay-grading that I'm currently doing" might get in the way of any in-depth blogging for several days.

Therefore, go and read for thyself.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Islam as a 'pagan' religion?

Nicolas Poussin, The Adoration of the Golden Calf
Worshipping a false god as the true one?
(Image from Wikipedia)

I've somewhere read that Aquinas wrote his Summa contra Gentiles to be used in efforts toward converting Muslims to the Christian faith, the term "Gentiles" thus referring to "Muslims" and implying that Muslims were pagans, with whom one could not use the Old Testament for prooftexting and for whom one therefore had to turn to the light of natural reason.

Perhaps natural reason also wouldn't work if Allah is a radically voluntarist deity . . . but let that be.

I'm more interested in the Aquinas's implication that Islam is a sort of 'higher' Paganism rather than a 'lower' Christianity, if such is his view. Islam viewed as a pagan religion has recently resurfaced in the argument put forth by Alain Besançon in his article "What kind of religion is Islam?" for Commentary (May 2004), whose central point is that:
[W]hen Christians and Jews approach Islam . . . [they] may well be struck by the religious zeal of the Muslim toward a God whom they recognize as being also their God. But this God is in fact separate and distinct, and so is the relation between Him and the believing Muslim. Christians are accustomed to distinguish the worship of false gods -- that is, idolatry -- from the worship of the true God. To treat Islam suitably, it becomes necessary to forge a new concept altogether, and one that is difficult to grasp -- namely, an idolatry of the God of Israel. To put it another way, Islam may be thought of as the natural religion of the revealed God.
Besançon's point is an intriguing one but not easy to grasp. Perhaps he means that from a Christian perspective, Muslims have focused on the correct 'God' but that they worship Him in the manner that 'pagans' worship an 'idol'. You'll not my 'scare quotes', intended to alert the reader to a special use of these terms. Go and read Besançon's article at Commentary, for which one needs a subscription, unfortunately.

But while one is waiting for that subscription to take effect, one can read another online article that treats Islam as a sort of pagan religion. This article is now available to nonsubscribers and can be found at First Things, where the pseudonymous "Spengler" (of the Asia Times Online) has published "Christian, Muslim, Jew: Franz Rosenzweig and the Abrahamic Religions" (October 2007). As implied by the title, Spengler presents Rosenzweig on Islam (along with Christianity and Judaism).

Spengler notes that:
At first glance, Rosenzweig's characterization of Islam as pagan appears strange, for we habitually classify religions according to their outward forms and identify paganism with manifestations of polytheism or nature worship. Insisting on the uniqueness of Allah and suppressing outward expressions of idolatry, Islam appears the opposite of a pagan religion. Rosenzweig, however, requires us to see faith from the existential standpoint of the believer, who in revealed religion knows God through God's love. For Rosenzweig, paganism constitutes a form of alienation from the revealed God of Love; Allah, the absolutely transcendent God who offers mercy but not unconditional love, is therefore a pagan deity.
The term 'pagan' is again being used in a particular sense, this time by the Jewish thinker Franz Rosenzweig, writing in The Star of Redemption (1921), as reported by the apparently Christian "Spengler," who comments approvingly upon this use.

From a secular perspective, of course, Islam is yet another monotheism . . . like Judaism and Christianity. But from a Jewish or Christian perspective, what is one to make of it since its status as a 'revealed' religion is highly suspect, to put things mildly?

I leave it to the readers to decide, but you'll first have to read Besançon and "Spengler" to see for yourselves.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

J.P. Moreland: "Fighting 'Bibliolatry' at the Evangelical Theological Society"

J.P. Moreland
Fighting 'Bibliolatry'
(Image from Wikipedia)

Ted Olsen, an editor at Christianity Today, is attending a meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) being held in San Diego, and he reports on a talk by the philosopher J. P. Moreland:
"Postcard from San Diego: Fighting 'Bibliolatry' at the Evangelical Theological Society: Talbot's J.P. Moreland warns that evangelicals are 'over-committed to the Bible.'" (Christianity Today, November 14, 2007)
The ETS is the organization that Francis Beckwith used to head before he returned to Catholicism, after which, he had to step down from his position as its president. The issue was related to the ETS's membership requirements:
ETS membership has only two doctrinal requirements: you must affirm the Trinity and the inerrancy of Scripture.
The latter requirement posed the problem, apparently. Be that as it may, I find interesting that the ETS requires members to affirm the Trinity, which implies that for them, it's something additional to scripture. Of course, Trinitarianism is orthodox Christian theology, but how does the ETS ground it on the narrow foundation of Scriptural inerrancy? I'm asking in ignorance and perhaps conflating two different issues, i.e., inerrancy of the Bible and sources of theology. Possibly, the ETS insists on biblical inerrancy but allows for other sources of theological truth.

Yet, one of Moreland's points seems to be that the ETS, or perhaps Evangelicals more broadly, exclude any authority outside of scripture:
The problem, he said, is "the idea that the Bible is the sole source of knowledge of God, morality, and a host of related important items. Accordingly, the Bible is taken to be the sole authority for faith and practice."
Which returns us to the problem that I noted. The Trinity is never mentioned in the Bible. Now, I don't doubt that the ETS has a response, for there are a lot of learned and intelligent people in it, including William Lane Craig, but the concept of the Trinity draws on the Greek philosophical tradition and would not make sense (assuming that it does make sense) outside of that tradition.

This sort of thing is what Pope Benedict XVI was referring to in his Regensberg talk as the two streams that join in the Christian tradition, namely, Jewish spirituality and Greek rationality. Readers will recall that I analyzed the Pope's address as being more critical of Protestant 'dehellenization' than of Islam. Well, Moreland could have been channeling the Pope on this in one of the points that he made:
"The sparse landscape of evangelical political thought stands in stark contrast to the overflowing garden both of evangelical biblical scholarship and Catholic reflection on reason, general revelation, and cultural and political engagement," he said. "We evangelicals could learn a lesson or two from our Catholic friends."

That wasn't as provocative a statement coming a few months after the ETS president became one of those "Catholic friends." Catholicism is on the agenda here, and Catholics are both implicitly and explicitly discussed in the meeting's many discussions of justification. But Catholicism doesn’t seem to be the "new open theism" at ETS.
By "open theism," Olson is referring to an ETS controversy of a few years back over God's omniscience, in which some evangelical theologians limited God's knowledge based on biblical passages that seem to show God looking for information or changing His mind. Apparently, the "Catholic issue" is not a hot button one:
No, more provocative was Moreland's argument about why evangelicals became over-committed to the Bible. Rather than developing a robust epistemology in response to secularism, he said, evangelicals reacted and retreated. Now evangelical theologians aren't allowed to come to any new conclusions about the truths in Scripture, and they're not allowed to find truths outside of Scripture. As a result, he said, they're engaged in "private language games and increasingly detailed minutia" and "we're not seeing work on broad cultural themes."
Interesting, at least for me. Too bad that Moreland's paper isn't (yet?) online.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"Lying for the truth..."

Willi Münzenberg
(Image from Wikipedia)

My friend Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, posted a link to a long but fascinating article that very nearly convinces me that there was indeed not only a Communist 'conspiracy' but even a rather effective one at work in the middle years of the twentieth century.

I say "very nearly" because I'm not sure that the 'conspiracy' was quite so effective, but that's a point for debate.

Anyway, if you have an hour, go and read Stephen Koch's long essay, "Lying for the truth: Münzenberg & the Comintern" (The New Criterion, Volume 12, Number 3, November 1993). One hour is about how much time that I spent yesterday reading this fascinating report on one of yesterday's threats to world order. That hour was time that I didn't actually have available for leisurely reading, but I could justify the luxury of enjoying a well-written essay by telling myself that we can possibly learn something about the current methods of Islamists by studying the past methods of Communists. This rationale might even be true, but whether it is or isn't, the article itself made for compelling reading, as you can see from its opening lines:
On October 22, 1940, not far from a tiny French hamlet near Grenoble called Montagne, two hunters out with their dogs stumbled across something gruesome hidden in a small stand of woods. At the foot of a fine old oak sat, upright, the decomposing body of a man. The man had been dead for a long time, and he appeared to have been hanged.

What the hunters found that day would become more than a legend of their town; it would take its place among the enduring mysteries of modern politics. For this was the body of a man named Willi Münzenberg, and Willi Münzenberg had lived and died as one of the unseen powers of twentieth-century Europe. When the hunters found it, his corpse was almost entirely covered with fallen leaves. Only the vile face and the popped stare of strangulation were visible -- that and the noose. The reek was awful; the body had plainly been there for months. The knotted cord around its neck seemed to have snapped, probably quite soon after he had been hanged, and when it broke, the body had apparently dropped to the base of the tree. There it had stayed, knees up, all through that summer of the French defeat, sitting oddly undetected until October began to cover it with the drift of autumn and the hunters' dogs, yelping and whining, discovered the thing.

The French villagers knew nothing about Willi Münzenberg. Münzenberg was and is not a famous name, though this man's power had given him a potent grip on the workings of fame. Since his radical youth in 1917, Willi Münzenberg had been a largely covert but major actor in the politics of the twentieth century. As a founding organizer of the Communist International and a leader in the structure of Marxist-Leninist power outside Russia, Münzenberg had played an especially influential part in the conspiracies, the maneuvers, the propaganda, the secret policies and actions that had led to this very spot: here to the fall of France; here to Hitler's war on the West; here to these woods, and this death.
Unlike those French villagers, I'd heard of Willi Münzenberg, though I didn't really know his story, but this opening had my curiosity whetted for more details, and I read the entire essay without being distracted despite the various people coming and going through the faculty lounge that doubles as 'my' office.

What did Münzenberg do? He worked, rather successfully, to organize a network of Communists, their witting sympathizers, and their unwitting-but-culturally-influential fellow-travelers into a conspiracy aimed at shaping cultural values in the West, especially in Europe. How did he do this? Through the Comintern:
The instrument through which Münzenberg organized this cultural power was the Communist International, or, as it was almost always known, the Comintern. The Comintern was in many ways the quintessential Leninist institution, shaped from its inception by the two leading passions of Lenin's political personality: his obsession with secrecy, and his preoccupation with absolute power. Its aims were never even remotely democratic, never even remotely meliorist, and never were intended to provide any real assistance, however minute, to any branch of the left not entirely under Soviet control.
It worked like this:
Münzenberg's information network controlled newspapers and radio stations, ran film companies, created book clubs, ran magazines, sponsored publicity tours, dispatched journalists, and commissioned books. It planted articles and created organizations to give direction to the "innocent." To use the jargon of a different age, it was a media combine. Yet it differed in a number of ways from the BBC, Time Inc., or even from an explicit instrument of political propaganda like Radio Liberty. For example, many people working for it did not publicly acknowledge the connection. Many operated under aliases. Many led classic double lives, sometimes totally changing their identities, concealing their true mission from their friends, even their spouses, and certainly from employers, who often included unsuspecting editors, publishers, and producers whose ideas were very remote from the real agenda. They were, in short, secret agents, people who lived and worked, however publicly, in a secret world: the realm of intelligence gathering, covert action, undercover penetration, clandestine influence, quiet sabotage, discreet blackmail -- what the American counter-spy James Jesus Angleton, quoting T. S. Eliot, called "a wilderness of mirrors." Nor did the work stop with the media. Münzenberg also courted business people who could be used in industrial espionage, both in Europe and the United States. Given Lenin's obsession with electrification, for example, an early target was General Electric. And back when the revolution was still young, it was Münzenberg's task to create for much of this vast unseen enterprise a persuasive public face.
Münzenberg's efforts ultimately failed. History ever slips through our mortal fingers. But in its day, Münzenberg's network shaped European and even American attitudes profoundly enough to persuade many that Niccola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were innocent. Why? Münzenberg cared not whether the two were innocent or not. The point was a different one:
Münzenberg's ... idea was to create and sustain a worldwide anti-American campaign that would focus its appeal upon the mythology of the country's immigration. The purpose of such a campaign would be to instill a reflexive loathing of the United States and its people as a prime tropism of left-wing enlightenment. To undermine the myth of the Land of Opportunity, the United States would be shown as an almost insanely xenophobic place, murderously hostile to foreigners.
With such an aim (and possibly Communism's principal, lasting success), the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti was a thing that the Communists only pretended to oppose, as revealed in the following anecdote that Koch attributes to the writer Katherine Anne Porter:
The Communist goal was never to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti. Acquittal would have dissolved the whole political point. Katherine Anne Porter, like hundreds of writers and artists of the time, participated in the Boston deathwatch. She reports an exchange with the Comintern agent who was her group leader, Rosa Baron, "a dry, fanatical little woman who wore thick-lensed spectacles over her accusing eyes, a born whiphand, who talked an almost impenetrable jargon of party dogma. ... I remarked ... that even then, at that late time, I still hoped the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti could be saved. ... 'Saved' she said, ringing a change on her favorite answer to political illiteracy, 'who wants them saved? What earthly good would they do us alive?'"
Ms. Baron's remark is either the profound cynicism of the nihilist or the deep conviction of the true believer that every deception is permitted in pressing forward toward the utopian 'truth' ... and maybe both at once.

In this regard, the old Communists -- unwittingly of course -- prepared the way for today's Islamists ... but will history slip through their fingers?

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI Scandal?

Pope Benedict XVI Off-Duty?
Tippling from the Holy Grail?
(Image from Expatriate Games)

This may be just a baseless accusation, but given my history of defending the Pope, I feel that I must report this recent, disturbing claim against His Holiness.

A baby living in Daejeon has identified Pope Benedict XVI as his maternal grandmother (see photo of grandmother above). The precocious baby girl -- whose name is "Hayden Lee" and who lives in Korea with her Korean father and French-Canadian mother -- made the claim on November 11, 2007, also known as Pepero Day (a Korean national holiday). According to the baby's mother:
"I was reading one of my favourite blogs -- Gypsy Scholar -- when Hayden spied a photo of Pope Benedict XVI. And gasped. And said "Nan-nee! Nan-eeee!"
The poor thing was attempting to say "Nanny," which is what she calls her grandmother. Here's the papal image that the child was looking at:

Pope Benedict XVI
(Image from Wikipedia)

Given that the young child's mother is the well-known KAIST blogger Melissa, of the fine blog Expatriate Games, I'm inclined to take this report very seriously despite the slight differences in appearance, age, and gender perceivable in the two photos above. I mean, do babies lie? Surely not!

However, honesty compels me to observe that the child's credibility might be doubted based on an earlier, similar accusation leveled against a refrigerator:
Since we left Canada in August, I have, by special request, been showing Hayden photos of my mom and my sisters and my step-father while saying their names. She can now recognize their faces and repeat (reasonable versions of) their names. Or so I thought. But. My mom's photo is on our refrigerator so when we go to the kitchen I point at the picture and say "Nanny. Hayden, that's Nanny". And she would smile and nod and say back "Na-nee. Na-neee". Cute as a button. But the other day as we were bypassing the kitchen to make our way to the bathroom, Little Miss Lee spied the fridge -- gasped -- ran up to it, patted the side of our LG Dios Digital and said "Na-nee. Na-nee". And nodded proudly. The child thinks our fridge is her grandmother. Sorry mom. At least it wasn't a kimchi cooler.
Hmmm.... It occurs to me that the child might have been identifying the Pope not as her grandmother but, rather, as a fridge. Here's an image of an LG Dios Digital fridge:

Spitting Image of Pope Benedict XVI?
(Image from

Right. Well... perhaps this little kid is not only mixed but even mixed up -- a bit of fusion confusion. Moreover, kids often say the darndest things! And they'll do the darndest things, too. Here, you'll find some kids posing for photos the way that the little boy in Calvin and Hobbes always did.

Speaking of that comic strip, go here for the latest idyllic image...

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Meanwhile, here on the peninsula...

Dr. Andrei Lankov

Readers of Gypsy Scholar may easily overlook this fact -- for unlike most expat bloggers here in Northeast Asia, I don't often talk about peninsular issues -- but I do happen to live in South Korea, and the shadow of the North still falls across the DMZ.

That shadow used to darken thoughts with fears of a Communist takeover, but few sincerely worry about that anymore.

Instead, the shadow whose penumbra darkens South Korean thoughts is one whose umbra will bring the total eclipse of the North. Why?
Despite the [communist] government's resistance to reform, the North Korean system is gradually crumbling from below, and this slow-motion disintegration might turn into an uncontrollable collapse in any moment. A sudden death of even a serious illness of Kim Jong-il is almost certain to trigger a serious crisis. If this happens, all bets are off, but it seems that a collapse of the system, Romanian or East German style, is one of the most likely outcomes.
So says Andrei Lankov, "Working through Korean unification blues," Asia Times Online, November 15, 2007, an article that Robert Koehler has linked to and commented upon at his indispensable website, The Marmot's Hole.

Better to opt for an East German ending rather than a Romanian one, if we could choose, but the choice is not really ours.

But why should South Koreans fear the North's collapse? Assuming that China does not intervene and that reunification does take place, the Korean peninsula will face enormous problems, the huge cost of reunifying being merely one of these. For Lankov's analysis of these other problems, and there are many, read his three-page article on the possible scenarios, their consequences, and how to deal both with scenarios and with consequences.

These include masses of unemployed, a possible crime wave, unscrupulous deception of naive Northerners by Southern land speculators, and other equally pleasant possibilities.

One thing that Lankov neglects to mention, but it's relevant to my line of work: the huge Korean demand for English instructors can only be vastly increased by the North's collapse.

There's always a silver lining...

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Adrian Pabst: Real Debate on Christianity and Islam?

Adrian Pabst
Stirring the pot...
(Image: Dept. of Theol/Relig Stds,

A scholar of religion and politics at the University of Nottingham, Adrian Pabst (who also holds a position as research fellow at the Luxembourg Institute for European and International Studies), has written an interesting column for the November 13th edition (2007) of the online International Herald Tribune (IHT):
"Christianity and Islam: We need a real debate, not more dialogue"
A provocative title . . . though not the sort to provoke violence, I hope. Pabst was responding to a Muslim letter to the pope:
Last month, 138 Muslim scholars addressed an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders in which they call for a new dialogue between Christianity and Islam based on sacred texts.

Entitled "A Common Word Between Us and You," the document claims that the shared Muslim and Christian principles of love of the One God and love of the neighbor provide the sort of common ground between the two faiths that is necessary for respect, tolerance and mutual understanding.
The letter was a response to Pope Benedict's remarks about Islam in his talk at Regensberg, Germany about one year ago:
The publication of this letter coincided with the anniversary of a previous open letter in response to the pope's controversial Regensburg address on Sept. 12, 2006, when he appeared to link violence in religion to the absolute transcendence of God in Islam. His point was that according to Muslim teaching, God's will is utterly inscrutable and therefore unknowable to human reason -- with the implication that divine injunctions cannot be fully understood and must be blindly obeyed.

Against this background, the latest initiative by Muslim scholars marks an attempt to move interfaith dialogue away from debates about reason and revelation towards scriptural reading. Christian-Muslim relations, so their argument goes, are best served by engaging in textual interpretations that highlight shared commandments and common beliefs.
Pabst thinks that this suggestion in based on some mistaken assumptions:
But to suggest, as the authors of "A Common Word" do, that Muslims and Christians are united by the same two commandments which are most essential to their respective faith and practice -- love of God and love of the neighbor -- is theologically dubious and politically dangerous.

Theologically, this glosses over elementary differences between the Christian God and the Muslim God. The Christian God is a relational and incarnate God. Moreover, the New Testament and early Christian writings speak of God as a single Godhead with three equally divine persons -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Interesting. Does the New Testament speak so clearly in this way? A generous reading of Pabst's remark would parse his statement to mean that "the New Testament and early Christian writings" taken together -- and "early" taken to include the first several centuries -- "speak of God as a single Godhead with three equally divine persons." Joseph Cyr (of Tucson, Arizona), in a letter to the IHT editor, does not read him quite so generously:
Careful analysis of the New Testament, though, shows that the idea of a triune God does not exist in its pages. In fact, it was not until the fourth century that the doctrine of a Trinity was firmly established as Church dogma . . . . Rather than state, as a matter of fact, that scripture supports a Triune God, Pabst would do well to say that it is a result of tradition and church dogma. That would be a piece of truth to throw into the debate about God and holy writings.
I agree that the New Testament does not refer to a "Triune God" or to a "Trinity," and I wish that Pabst had been more clear (though he doesn't actually use the terms "Triune" or "Trinity"), but I'll continue to read him generously so as not to miss his point, which is:
This is not merely a doctrinal point, but one that has significant political and social implications. The equality of the three divine persons is the basis for equality among mankind -- each and everyone is created in the image and likeness of the triune God.

As a result, Christianity calls for a radically egalitarian society beyond any divisions of race or class. The promise of universal equality and justice that is encapsulated in this conception of God thus provides Christians with a way to question and transform not only the norms of the prevailing political order but also the (frequently perverted) social practices of the Church.

By contrast, the Muslim God is disembodied and absolutely one: there is no god but God, He has no associate. This God is revealed exclusively to Muhammed, the messenger (or prophet), via the archangel Gabriel. As such, the Koran is the literal word of God and the final divine revelation first announced to the Hebrews and later to the Christians.

Again, this account of God has important consequences for politics and social relations. Islam does not simply posit absolute divisions between those who submit to its central creed and those who deny it; it also contains divine injunctions against apostates and unbelievers (though protecting the Jewish and Christian faithful).

Moreover, Islam's radical monotheism tends to fuse the religious and the political sphere: It privileges absolute unitary authority over intermediary institutions and also puts a premium on territorial conquest and control, under the direct rule of God.

These (and other) differences imply that Christians and Muslims do not worship or believe in the same God; in consequence, across the two faiths, love of God and love of the neighbor invariably differ.
This latter statement will certainly generate some debate. Already, a letter to the IHT editor has taken issue with Pabst's remark about Christians and Muslims not worshipping the same God. Bianca Schlesinger, of Tel Aviv, demurs:
Pabst writes "These (and other) differences imply that Christians and Muslims do not worship or believe in the same God." How can they believe in different Gods if there is only one? If there is only one God, as declared by the monotheistic religions, than they all worship the same God; they only conceive of Him differently.
Schlesinger has responded as Pabst might wish, i.e., theologically, and thereby raised a crucial point. Do Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians. Schlesinger -- who is, I take it, Jewish -- argues that Muslims do so, based on the theological position that there can be only one God. The argument might need some refining, however, for by a similar intellectual move, I could argue that polytheists also worship the same God as Jews and Christians because there can only be one God, and the polytheists "only conceive of Him differently" -- radically differently, of course, but they nevertheless recognize the divine and treat the divine as an object of reverence. Yet, polytheism and monotheism can only worship the same 'God' at a very general, very abstract level (if at all). As Pabst himself says:
By ignoring these fundamental divergences, the authors of the open letter perpetuate myths about Christians and Muslims praying differently to the same God. Worse, they exhibit a simplistic theology of absolute, unmediated monotheism.
Anyway, go read the entire article and see what you think about Pabst's theological, political, and ethical points.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Asked to Join a Plowman's Society...

Beautiful Dreamer
Piers Plowman Manuscript
Corpus Christi College, Oxford
(Image from Wikipedia)

Well, way back in high school, I did belong to the Future Farmers of America (Motto: "Plowmen dig thy earth!"). I even had a lovely, blue-suede jacket with the letters FFA embroidered in golden thread, and I, my wine-buddy Bruce Cochran, and two other friends all went as FFA members to represent our school at the dairy-products-judging finals in the state competition hosted by the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

But that ain't it. Nuh-uh!

Rather, last year, I published an article on universal salvation in Piers Plowman, titling it "Kinsman as 'Redeemer' in Piers Plowman, Passus 18," which was also published last year in volume 14, issue 1, of the MEMESAK journal.

In these hyperkinetic, cybernetic, internetic days, word eventually gets around.

Thus, in September of this year (2007), I was asked by Dr. Lawrence Warner -- Co-Editor of the Yearbook of Langland Studies and Lecturer of Middle English for the Department of English for the University of Sydney -- if I could supply an abstract to the article.

Yes, I could, so I did:
In Passus 18 of Piers Plowman, William Langland implicitly affirms universal salvation. The paper investigates what might lie behind Langland's position, which contradicts the Church's official teaching of limited salvation. At least three things may influence his views on kinship: the biblical concept of the kinsman-redeemer; Anselm's theological opinions on salvation; and Anglo-Saxon culture's emphasis upon kinship obligations. The third influence seems the strongest, for Langland has Christ implicitly affirm universal salvation because all of mankind are his blood kin. The Anglo-Saxon cultural factor would therefore appear to provide the key to understanding Langland's belief in universal salvation.
Dr. Warner promised that, for my assistance, "The community of P[iers] P[lowman] scholars would be very grateful!"

I reckon that I'm now one of those scholars, an expert in things Medieval, for I've now received an email from Dr. Warner's co-editor for the Yearbook of Langland Studies, Professor Fiona Somerset, who teaches Medieval Literature in the English Department at Duke University:
You're receiving this email because you've done work in Langland studies and have been suggested for membership by a current subscriber. We are writing to invite you to join the International Piers Plowman Society (IPPS), a membership that includes subscription to the Yearbook of Langland Studies (YLS) . . . . Your Society membership includes other benefits in addition to receipt of the journal. One is access to an electronic, searchable version of
the Annual Bibliography at [the IPPS website].
I'm tempted to join, now that I'm a scholar and all -- and in things Medieval, at that! But I'm not really much of a Langland scholar, having published only this one article, and I know that I'd never find the time and money to attend a Plowman conference since I must leap various hurdles even to attend such international conferences as those hosted by societies for Milton or Biblical Studies -- in which I'm arguably more of a scholar -- so I likely won't join this Langland society.

Still . . . it was nice to be recognized for something.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Why Islamists Will Lose

Abu Yahya al-Liby
"the entire world must be ruled by Islam"
(Image from MEMRI)

I've previously mentioned the Islamist Abu Yahya al-Liby in this blog, for he's the one who seems to have approved of human sacrifice in Islam. Here's what I wrote based on a statement from al-Liby translated by Memri:
In perusing words from the transcript of a statement by Al-Qaeda Member Al-Liby, I've come across another one of those jihadist remarks that seem to cast suicide jihadism in terms of human sacrifice, as indicated by this money quote:
"this form of worship [i.e. jihad] can only exist through the blood of those who sacrifice their souls for [Islam]..."
In effect, Al-Liby seems to be saying that the external, military jihad is a type of worship that takes the form of blood sacrifice through its martyrs.
Now, thanks again to Memri, I've come upon another remarkably blunt statement by Al-Liby about jihad, a statement that he made in August 2007 in which he states rather too forthrightly for his own interests the real aim of Al-Qaeda:
We are not like those people who draw a distinction between types of jihad -- permitting and supporting it against the Jews in Palestine, and forbidding and preventing it in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Algeria, and elsewhere. Jihad, which is the highest form of dissociation from non-Muslims, should be waged against the Jews, like it should be waged against the Christians, the Zoroastrians, the Hindus, and the apostates.


We fight all the polytheists, just like they fight us all. We do not limit ourselves in this. We do not restrict ourselves to one type [of infidels] or to one region. This [jihad] will continue until they all submit to the religion of Allah, yield to its laws, and surrender to its rule.
In short, Al-Qaeda is after everybody who's either not Muslim or not Muslim enough. I guess that the attack on the World Trade Center wasn't specifically because of US foreign policy after all, for Al-Qaeda's jihad extends everywhere throughout the world.

Al-Liby is even thoughtful enough to explain the method:
Yes, we believe that the entire world must be ruled by Islam, and no grain of soil should be made an exception, because the Prophet Muhammad was sent to all people without exception. This does not mean, however, that we must fight all peoples of the world at once, in order to subject them to Islamic law. Islam did not command us to do so. Islam commanded us to fight the closest and then the next, from among the people who refuse to submit to the rule of Islam. We should move from the closest to the next, and widen the circle, until all people submit to the rule of Allah. We are now at the beginning of the road, when we try to regain the lands taken over by the infidels, from among the Jews, the Christians, their apostate supporters, and treacherous rulers.
For al-Liby -- and I presume that he's speaking here for Al-Qaeda -- the jihad is religiously motivated, even religiously mandated, so any attack upon infidels follows primarily from the belief that infidels must submit to Islam.

Obviously, infidels aren't going to look very kindly upon Al-Qaeda after hearing statements of this sort. And since most Muslims aren't strict enough for Al-Qaeda's salafi brand of Islam, they'll probably react much as the Anbar tribes did in deciding to expell Al-Qaeda in Iraq from their midst. In Baghdad, too, some Muslims are strongly critical of what Al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups have been doing. According to an article in the New York Times, Muhammad Wehiab, a 30-year-old Shiite imam residing in the the Baghdad neighborhood of Bab al-Sheik, has expressed some radical views:
One of them is that Muslims have behaved terribly toward one another in the war here and have given Islam a bad name in using it to gain power. "I don't blame those guys who drew the cartoons," Wehiab said, referring to the Danish caricatures of the prophet Muhammad that provoked riots and protests across the Islamic world last year.

"Muslims are the ones to be blamed," he said, sitting in an armchair in his quiet living room. "They have given them this picture...."

Wehiab's friend, a Sunni cleric, holds a similar view. "The greatest jihad is the jihad of yourself." (Sabrina Tavernise and Karim Hilmi, "An oasis from politics amid the turmoil in Baghdad," The New York Times, November 13, 2007)
In other words, the greatest jihad should be a struggle against one's own evil impulses. I don't assume that these two clerics reject the so-called 'lesser' jihad of military force, but give them credit for refusing to exculpate Muslims for the negative image of Islam that is currently developing in the world.

This negative image is widespread and will spread even more widely as people learn such statements as those by al-Liby about a religiously motivated jihad aimed at subjecting the entire world to salafi Islam.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Nearly an 'It Boy'

On a railway crossing near here...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Martin Buber wrote of I and Thou. Yesterday afternoon, I nearly became an 'it'.

I was riding the 273 Bus from Kyung Hee University at around 3:15, on my way to pick up my son, En-Uk, from his piano lesson, and the driver proved himself one of those 'Drivers from Hell' -- as my kids and I like to call them.

In short, a typical bus driver in Seoul -- the Polar Express engineer has nothing on these Korean Big City Drivers!

Yet . . . I no longer really notice the abrupt stops, the sudden accelerations, the unpredictable lane changes. I just brace myself, knee against the seat in front of me, and read my International Herald Tribune, experienced enough in my Han-Kookily urbanized life to ignore my surroundings and still avoid being thrown unceremoniously from my seat.

At some point, however, I became aware that we were backing up . . . s l o w l y. I looked up from my paper just as the bus's retrograde motion halted. A uniformed man was rushing across an open space toward the front of my bus, his head twisting quickly first right, then left, as he ran. Another man, also in uniform, stood beside the bus, to my right, frantically waving a red flashlight and ordering traffic behind the bus to back up.

At that moment, my eyes focused on a railway crossing's half-barrier bar, which was leaning fixed against the bus's front door. Red lights were flashing, bells were clanging, and the bus's engine portion was thrust across the subway tracks.

I'll say this for the driver -- he didn't abandon his passengers (unlike the subway train driver in the Daegu Subway Fire) but sat firmly in his seat and waited for the cars behind to back up, upon which, he did the same. Our bus had just slipped back behind the half-barrier bar, allowing it to descend completely, as the train rushed past.

My newspaper forgotten, neglected on my lap, I sat there staring at the driver's reflection in his rearview mirror, wondering if he had tried to beat the train, or if the half-barrier, flashing lights, and clanging bell had all simultaneously, if temporarily, malfunctioned.

The former seemed more likely, for after the train had safely passed, then another had rushed in the opposite direction, the bus lunged forward as the 'Driver from Hell' hurried on to meet what I took to be his urgent, pressing, schedule . . . having, apparently, learned absolutely nothing from his close encounter with nothingness.

I rode home thinking of Malcolm Pollack's own close encounter with mortality and had a cold beer to celebrate my continued subjectivity...

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"The It Girl"

The It Girl
"attracting oculophiliacs since 1977"
(Image from Lexiphanic)

Well, "The It Girl" has tagged me and set forth the following rules:
1. Link to the person who tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 random facts about yourself.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of the post, and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know they've been tagged by commenting on their blog.
5. Please "feel free to ignore the lame chain game."
Actually, I added rule number five, but the words fell from the lips of the "The It Girl" herself.

Okay, here goes:
1. I never participate in these lame chain games.
2. I'm not entirely consistent.
3. I really hate the overuse of italics.
4. Why can't an adverb simply express emphasis without italics?
5. Does it strike anyone else as slightly odd that "adverb" is a noun?
6. Numbers 4 and 5 are not directly facts about me.
7. Number 6 also lacks factitude -- but factually expresses nonfactitude -- about me.
Okay, I tag the following seven bludgers:
Clara Gordon Bow
Richard Harris
Douglas Noël Adams
Hans Blumenberg
Hans Jonas
Фёдор Михайлович Достоевский
Лев Николаевич Толстой
These seven unfortunates should feel free to ignore me. Indeed, I would be a bit disconcerted if any of them were somehow to respond to my tag...

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